Brewers 2014 positional preview: Starting pitching
This is the first in a nine-part series previewing the Milwaukee Brewers by position heading into Opening Day on March 31.
Yovani Gallardo (12-10, 4.18 ERA in 2013)
Kyle Lohse (11-10, 3.35 ERA)
Matt Garza (10-6, 3.82 ERA with the Cubs an Rangers)
Wily Peralta (11-15, 4.37 ERA)
Marco Estrada (7-4, 3.87 ERA)
2013 IN REVIEW
Much like it was for the team as a whole, the month of May was a disaster for Milwaukee’s starting pitchers. Brewers’ starters went 4-18 with an MLB-worst 6.72 ERA in what was the worst month in franchise history. Though you can’t just forget about a whole month, the staff was just fine for the rest of the season.
The starting pitchers posted a 3.61 ERA from June 1 through the end of the season, good for eighth-best in baseball during that time period. That’s certainly a respectable ERA considering 12 different pitchers made starts in 2013. Injuries and an inability to find a fifth starter caused relievers Tom Gorzelanny, Alfredo Figaro and Donovan Hand to combine for 22 starts, while Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg each got seven-start auditions.
Signed just before the season started, Kyle Lohse put together five strong months for the Brewers. Even Milwaukee’s most consistent pitcher struggled in May, as Lohse’s lack of spring training likely caught up with him. He battled hamstring and forearm injuries to finish 0-4 with a 6.51 ERA in five May starts, going 11-6 with a 2.84 ERA in his other 27 outings.
Gallardo finished with the worst numbers of his seven-year career, but went 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA in his last eight starts. His inconsistent season included a month-long stay on the disabled list for a hamstring injury suffered in Chicago the day before the trade deadline in July. The 28-year-old lost velocity on his fastball and struggled to have the same kind of success he’s accustomed to with the curveball. But Gallardo looked more like his usual self late in the year, leaving the Brewers encouraged.
Inconsistent would be the word to describe Peralta’s first season in the big leagues. The 24-year-old went through growing pains early in the season but flashed glimpses of his great potential. Estrada pitched well when healthy, but staying on the field continued to plague the right-hander. He missed two months with a strained left hamstring but returned to be named the team’s pitcher of the month in August and September.
With nobody expecting the Brewers to make any major moves when it came to the rotation, general manager Doug Melvin surprised everyone by giving Matt Garza a four-year, $50 million contract. The signing gives the Brewers three established veteran arms at the top of their starting five.
If healthy, Milwaukee feels it has a rotation that will allow it to compete for a playoff spot in the National League. Lohse, Gallardo and Garza aren’t true No. 1 pitchers, but those are hard to come by for teams like the Brewers. The next best thing is to stockpile No. 2 or 3 arms, and that’s what Melvin has done.
Peralta and Estrada give the Brewers two of the better back-end pitchers in the division, as both are capable of putting together solid seasons. Estrada must stay healthy, something he hasn’t consistently been able to do in his career. Peralta is focused on avoiding the slow start that plagued him in 2013 and is working on getting his off-speed stuff going earlier in the season. He’s got the ability to be a top of the rotation pitcher down the road.
The Brewers have a good amount of depth, as well. Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, Hiram Burgos, Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson all started games for the club in 2013 and will either begin the season in the big-league bullpen or at Triple-A Nashville.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Avoiding a slow start will be key, as the Brewers’ starting staff has been awful early in the season the past two years only to recover and finish strong when the team is out of the race. The margin for error is too small for the rotation to do the same thing in 2014.
THEY SAID IT
"We’ve got a good starting staff. I think we are all solid. The signing of Garza just boosted our starting five. I already thought we had a pretty good starting five, adding a guy like Garza makes it that much better." — Marco Estrada
"We are really deep, one through five. Even if you need a sixth or seventh guy, we have depth. Signing Garza really helped us out. He’s not afraid to go out there and lay it on the line. It makes us that much better. We know it all starts with the starting pitching and how we do. We have to have that strong base, and I feel like we’ve got it." — Kyle Lohse
"Any of the five guys can go out there and throw a shutout each time out. We’re pretty excited about the guys that we have." — Yovani Gallardo
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